A (Uniquely?) Ethical Dairy Farm

When it comes to marketing food these days, few buzzwords seem to carry more weight than that simple 6-letter word, “ethics.”

See this story, from the BBC: A new ethical farm opens at Bhaktivedanta Manor

Hare Krishnas at Bhaktivedanta Manor in Hertfordshire have opened a New Cow Protection Centre.

The ethos of the new centre is to treat animals and the environment with the highest respect.

Cows at the New Gokul centre are raised in keeping with the Vedic method where nothing need be harmed to produce ample food for all.

The animals are played relaxing music, are hand milked and allowed to live their natural life span…

The farm’s dedication to animal welfare is what leads them to self-identify as “ethical.” According to a spokesman:

“These people [who will buy it] will know that when they drink this milk, that the cow is going to be living their full natural life span.

“Also, for the first six months, the cow’s calf will be able to suckle from her mother and get her complete fill every day,” he continued, “and then we will take what’s left, so there’s some real ethical farming that we’re trying to promote here….”

Now there’s nothing surprising about the fact that the farm’s operators identify their practices as “ethical.” Most of us do that. And that includes, presumably, the owners of factory farms — they presumably (though controversially) believe that their methods are, on the whole, ethically justifiable. Keep in mind that the word “ethical” isn’t a descriptive term. It’s evaluative. Calling something “ethical” implies a judgment about it. It doesn’t point to a style of farming, but rather to someone thinking that that style of farming is one that meets ethical standards. What’s more surprising here, though, is that the BBC’s headline writers credulously parrot the farm’s self-labelling.

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
This entry was posted in agriculture, animal welfare, ethics, factory farms, religion. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A (Uniquely?) Ethical Dairy Farm

  1. Anastasia says:

    I find it interesting that they have the calves nurse for 6 months. Since milk production lasts about 13 months after calving, this dairy has reduced their potential milk production by half. Is it ethical to require double the number of cows to produce the same amount of milk*, even if those cows are perceived, based on human defined criteria, to be happier? “Ample food for all”? Perhaps if the “all” is seriously reduced in number.

    * If rBST is used even fewer cows and less feed are needed to produce the same amount of milk, although cows with high milk production (whether through breeding or use of rBST) do have higher incidence of mastitis.

  2. Jacqueline McGrew says:

    Can we as a people just do away with milk altogether? What other mammal is there that drinks another mammal’s milk into their adult stages? The milk is there to provide for the baby until the baby can provide food for itself. So isn’t all dairy production unethical.

    • Jacqueline:

      I think lots of people agree with you. Unfortunately, the reason you give doesn’t support your conclusion. A thing’s “natural” purpose is not an argument against using it in a different way. The flesh of an apple is there to nurture the seeds while they germinate & grow into trees. But that doesn’t make it unethical to eat apples. You need more than just natural purpose to generate an ethical obligation.


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